"What's up," he asked. "You look really down." I explained the complexity of my difficulty, the best I could. His response was quick and to the point. "I totally believe in you. I have no idea how to fix your problem, but you are one of the smartest guys I know. You can figure this out; take a break; breathe some smart air outside; then come back inside and "tip the canoe." (his expression for creative problem-solving). I took that walk, and inhaled several deep lungs full of smart air, and sat back down in my well worn desk chair. Within moments things began to click, two hours later I was well on my way to victory, the corner had been turned.
My friend's words of encouragement stand in contrast to shouts of those who attempt to get things done by coercion and pressurized deadlines. My pal's words provided freedom and confidence that enabled creative juices to flow. Authoritarian mandates and edicts from the ivory tower only squeeze off the conduits of ideation. Mandates are much like my little league baseball coach that would scream at us if we made an error - it only made me more nervous the next time a ball was hit my way.
Greenleaf (1991) included the characteristic of persuasion in his list of servant leadership qualities. Persuasion can take many forms but the result is still the same - a willing partnership designed to accomplish a shared vision of purpose. As I have reflected on this concept of persuasion, four concepts or methodologies come to mind.
First, persuasion effectively takes place by a simple appeal for help. There are some people in my life that are a simple phone call away for support. A face-to-face solicitation for assistance immediately sets action into place. Those colleagues are ones with servant's heart and kindred spirits toward collaboration. I am easily persuaded to come along side these co-laborers and they quickly respond to my appeals for input.
A second effective approach to persuasion comes in the form of edification and encouragement of the talents and gifts of others. The recognition of skills and talents in others can ignite intrinsic motivators in the hearts of people. A leader must take several steps to make this happen. Initially, the leader must be sensitive enough to notice the skill sets of another person. Then, the leader must be intentional to comment on the high quality of performance of that individual. Finally, the leader should use the comment to inspire the person to continue to use that strength in effective ways.
Thirdly, a logical, convincing, presentation of facts can persuade others to support your ideas. The most effective persuasion often occurs within the intellect of individuals. A rational explanation of research is difficult to ignore. Preparation before presentation is critical. A poorly done report can often destroy a powerful concept. A systematic outline followed by a realistic bottom-line is a good formula for potent persuasion.
Finally, large group persuasion should not be overlooked by the leader. Inspiring and motivating the entire organization is a key component to effective leadership. Clear communication... powerful words... motivating appeals... inspiring challenges... these must be the skills of an individual who hopes to be used as a servant leader. One-on-one relationships are critical; persuasion within small groups and project teams moves strategic plans into motion; but large group dynamics allow for wide-spread vision-casting. Helping the entire organization to understand its institutional mission can best take place as all of the employees hear the message at one time, all together.
Persuasion is all about communication. One-on-one, the team dynamic, and the large group setting are all important arenas for the art of persuasion.
Greenleaf, R.K. (1991). The servant as leader Indianapolis, IN; The Robert Greenleaf Center.